22 November 2013
In 2012, Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc. tasked us with organizing and designing the catalogue for the collection of Philip Grushkin (1921–1998). The catalogue Philip Grushkin: A Designer's Archive by Paul Shaw, is now available for purchase in the Display Bookstore. The comprehensive archive of over 1,800 items (book jackets, artwork, mechanicals, correspondence, design books, and ephemera) now resides at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Grushkin was an important and prolific book and book jacket designer during the 1940s through the 1980s for publishers such as Alfred A. Knopf, Harper & Brothers, Macmillan, Random House, McGraw-Hill, Doubleday, Crown, and many more. In addition, he was art director and vice president at Harry N. Abrams, who published the seminal textbook The History of Art by H.W. Janson (1962), book and jacket designed by Grushkin. Notable authors Grushkin designed the jackets for include: Simone de Beauvoir, Truman Capote, Chester Himes, Arthur Koestler, C.S. Lewis, Valdimir Nabokov, Anaïs Nin, Yukio Mishima, E.B. White and Elie Wiesel. Of the 1,800 total items, the Grushkin Archive contains approximately 350 flat book jackets, 305 roughs and comps, and 90 mechanicals. Also included are Grushkin's own collection of 300 book jackets designed by George Salter (his mentor and calligraphy teacher at Cooper Union), Grushkin's graphic design work (logos and stationery) and his personal work (greeting and holiday cards) which he printed on his own CapGee Press.
Together with Paul Shaw, we selected the jackets, comps and mechanicals to be featured in the catalogue – a combination of designs we found interesting, prominent authors and well-known titles. As a lettering historian, Shaw's catalogue text gives a unique insight into Grushkin's design process – from the illustrative sketches and artwork, to the comps (usually painted on stiff boards, fig. 6 and 7), to the technical aspects and hand-lettering of the mechanicals, to the final printed book jacket. In handling this material for photographing and scanning, we gained an appreciation for Grushkin's design process. He was not only a designer, but also a craftsman, able to execute ideas with paint, ink and paper. He experimented with different techniques using spray paint, airbrushing and crumpled paper to create the artwork for his book jackets (fig. 8). His mechanicals (fig. 9–11) are a fascinating look into the way design was accomplished before the use of computers with meticulous hand-lettering and notes to the printer.* All of these materials make the Grushkin Archive an important primary resource for the study of graphic design and its practice.
Grushkin forged his own brand of modernism, a unique mixture of bold typographic hand lettering, dynamic background patterns, vibrant colors, and abstract symbolism that owed nothing to the work of Rand, Lustig, or the eminent Bauhaus-trained designer and typographer Herbert Bayer. His jackets were part of mainstream publishing, situated between the Lustig and Rand covers for high-brow, avant-garde literature and the pulp fiction covers by James Avati and Robert Jonas. He was not granted the freedom to experiment like Lustig and Rand, but neither was he tightly bound by the conventions and expectations of the pulps; his jackets had to evoke the content of the book while simultaneously satisfying the publisher’s sales or marketing department.
It is our hope that this publication and the Grushkin Archive will shed light on one of the preeminent mid-century book designers, one whose legacy is a significant contribution to the field of graphic design.
*For a more detailed analysis of Grushkin's production process, please read "The Mechanics of Mechanicals" in Codex 2, in which Paul Shaw dissects the comp, mechanical and final book jacket design for The War Lords of Washington by Bruce Catton (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948).
We wish to express our most sincere gratitude and appreciation to John McWhinnie (1968–2012) who first introduced us to the work of Philip Grushkin and to Glenn Horowitz for giving us the opportunity to take part in this project.